The 2014 NFL Draft was unique for the Miami Dolphins. Not since the 2008 NFL Draft, have we witnessed a true change of the guard. In 2008, Bill Parcells walked through the doors at Miami, and brought with him Jeff Ireland. Sure, Bill Parcells didn't stay in Miami through to 2013, but there never was a true change of the guard at the general manager position. Ireland was a Parcells guy, and the strategy never truly changed.
What was that strategy?
Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland placed a huge emphasis on drafting players from big schools and made sure those players fit the prototypical size of the position. No attention was given to the player's character. No attention was given to the player's skill set. The players were solid, not spectacular.
Now that's changed. New general manager Dennis Hickey has arrived, signaling a new change of the guard. But just what do we now know about Hickey's draft strategy?
Quality of Person
After the ‘bully-gate' scandal, it's not surprising Hickey and head coach Joe Philbin have placed a big emphasis on the character of the person they were drafting. Five players were team captains. This makes perfect sense. The ‘bully-gate' scandal was left to fester because there weren't many leaders on the team that could stand up and say ‘enough is enough'. Would this have happened to a team with Ray Lewis in it? There's no way. Drafting leaders ensures the players are winners and will run through brick walls in pursuit of success. Use those types of players as your base, and then sprinkle a few select players at key positions that aren't leaders, but add the spice. There's a balance.
How many rookies drafted in 2013 made an impact? Zero. Why? Part of it was due to injury. Dion Jordan and Jamar Taylor both succumbed to injuries that forced them to miss most of the offseason. But on the other hand, did all the players have the skill-set to fit in with the type of offense and defense that this team wants to run? Did Jeff Ireland really collaborate with Joe Philbin and truly understand the types of players he wants on his football team? I'm not so sure. Dion Jordan is an incredible talent that you simply have to fit in your football team. But is he a defensive end in a 4-3 defense? Surely he would be better suited to an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense? Ryan Tannehill was a fit, but was he truly an Ireland selection? Many of the early round draft picks that Miami have selected just haven't been as successful as they could have been. Sadly, that also stretches to the free agents Miami signed in 2013. Is Dannell Ellerbe really a 4-3 middle linebacker? How does Philip Wheeler fit in the team? Is Mike Wallace a true west coast receiver? Part of all this is due to a lack of scheme fit.
Small School Prospects
Hickey and his staff aren't afraid to pursue small school prospects. In fact, five of the eight players selected by Miami came from the lower divisions in college football. That's not necessarily a disadvantage. While questions will be asked as to whether the players will be able to hold up to a higher level of competition, Hickey clearly has confidence in his scouting department and the analytics approach to drafting. Also, consider that of the 256 players drafted over the weekend, two- thirds came from the power conferences. It's not nearly an anomaly as people suggest when Miami selected five out of their eight draft selections from small schools. Draft on talent, not on school.
Is the old adage, ‘best player available', accurate?
Was Ja'Wuan James over-drafted? Perhaps. Does he fill a big void at right tackle, a position that has plagued the Miami Dolphins for countless years and has contributed to losses in games that Miami should have won? Absolutely. Hickey may very well have traded down in the first round, and still would have taken James. But was he willing to take that chance? No. After James, the tackle position became very thin. Some players were injury prone, many didn't fit the zone blocking scheme offensive coordinator Bill Lazor wants to employ and others simply weren't good enough. Ja'Wuan James may not have been the best player available, but the need at tackle definitely outweighs that. Hickey will not fall on his sword in the way Ireland did. It's simple, protect your quarterback.
Miami have a long way to go until they become a powerhouse in the AFC East, but Dennis Hickey has signaled a new dawn. Hickey has found his own blueprint; his own way of drafting. He is willing to listen to the requirements of the coaches. Drafting players should be a collaborative effort, and Hickey has shown that. It may not have been an exciting draft, but Hickey chose the players that give this football team the best possible chance of winning. Can we ask for any more?
What type of general manager do you think Dennis Hickey is? Is it a true change of the guard? Lets hear your thoughts!
Alex Parish is an Associate Editor at The Phinsider. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @AlexParish89.